It’s the newest example of an old trend: Playboy is ditching nude photos, making it the latest 20th-century corporation forced to radically change its business model in response to 21st-century digital upstarts. The New York Times reports on how the leadership of Hugh Hefner’s magazine decided it could no longer compete for eyeballs with even more raunchy online porn outfits:
As part of a redesign that will be unveiled next March, the print edition of Playboy will still feature women in provocative poses. But they will no longer be fully nude.
Its executives admit that Playboy has been overtaken by the changes it pioneered. “That battle has been fought and won,” said Scott Flanders, the company’s chief executive. “You’re now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And so it’s just passé at this juncture.”
For a generation of American men, reading Playboy was a cultural rite, an illicit thrill consumed by flashlight. Now every teenage boy has an Internet-connected phone instead. Pornographic magazines, even those as storied as Playboy, have lost their shock value, their commercial value and their cultural relevance.
This is partly a cultural story—as Rich Cromwell says, Playboy‘s version of erotica, which “used to rely on imagination and a modicum of restraint”, is no longer appealing in the 21st-century sexual landscape, which increasingly values neither. But it’s also an economic one. The wave of creative destruction unleashed by the Internet has left no segment of the economy untouched, including, or perhaps especially, the pornography industry. Legacy products with strong brands are often no match for their digital competitors, which cater even more precisely to their clients’ demands at lower costs. Whether it’s taxi cabs facing Uber or Playboy facing digital pornography, it may not be possible for the companies that offer 20th-century products to keep up in the current environment without making making radical changes to their business model.